Solutions to Managerial Accounting Problems

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What Are Accounting Subsystems?

Accounting systems training, factors to consider when choosing accounting software.

Managerial accounting focuses on the internal needs of a business, not on outside users of financial information. Problems in this area vary from one business to the next, even within the same industry, making solutions a bit tricky -- what worked for one firm may not work for another.

Computerized System

A common area of concern in management accounting is how to accumulate information on revenues and expenses in a way that helps the firm in making good decisions. A business owner or manager needs the right system to obtain correct information at the right time. These days, many small and medium-size firms use computerized accounting systems, which can provide solutions to managers' daily issues. Most systems allow for reporting on areas that can be tricky, such as accounts payable and receivable, inventory and cash. Business owners and managers may purchase industry-specific accounting programs that are affordable, providing solutions to many managerial issues.

A firm may have an accounting system that works well for certain areas of the business, but not others. Many times a manager needs an answer to a question, but the computerized report is not easily available, if available at all. In these cases, install an add-on program to the existing system to resolve the problem. Add-on programs include reporting or cost accounting software. Depending on your business needs, you may obtain an add-on to create complex invoices or analysis. The main advantage of this complementary program is that it works together with your existing system, making it more useful, expanding its capabilities without a major investment.


Many times a business needs an outside, independent third-party evaluation to identify the managerial accounting problem, analyze it and provide solutions specific to your situation. Maybe your problem originated from a work-flow problem and changing that would solve the issue. When selecting an accounting consultant, make sure that he has experience with your industry and business size. A solution for a multinational company will be different from one for a small to medium-sized firm. Also, be sure that the person is not related to any system developer or seller, who may be biased toward giving you advice.

When management requirements are not being met, the problem may lie in having employees without the proper education and training. They may also be unfamiliar with your industry and not understand what is being asked. Be sure to have qualified employees in the accounting area, so that they can take advantage of your system's functions and capabilities. New employees should be fully trained, not only on procedures, but also on the system setup. Manuals should be available and updated as changes occur. Note that you can train employees only so much, if you have someone with no education or experience with accounting, he can perform up to a certain point only. Be realistic.

Sheila Shanker is a certified public accountant based in California. She writes online courses for professionals seeking CPE hours and has also published the book "Guide to Non-profits: From the Trenches." Her articles have been published in national magazines such as the "Journal of Accountancy," "Architecture Business and Economics" and "Veterinary Economics." Shanker holds a Master of Business Administration.

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Accountants as Problem Solvers

August 01, 2020

By: Linda McCann DBA, CMA, CPA ; David Horn CPA ; Jennifer Dosch CMA

solving problems in management accounting

Managers often complain that accounting graduates aren’t prepared for today’s business environment. The complexity of our global economy and the increasing influence of, and reliance on, technology leads to practitioners and instructors questioning if undergraduate accounting programs focus on the right curriculum to prepare students for careers.

One soft skill that can help prepare accounting students for their careers is problem solving. Management accountants need to be able to work cross-functionally to solve problems and provide meaningful analyses. Many colleges, universities, and accrediting bodies in academia incorporate strategic goals requiring curriculum that facilitates problem-solving skills.

As instructors, we teach technical accounting skills by demonstrating and providing practice with accounting concepts and structured problems, which we assess via homework and exams. Teaching soft skills, such as unstructured problem solving, poses greater challenges that are more difficult to incorporate into the curriculum. How can students learn and approach unstructured problem solving?


Recent scientific discoveries into the brain reveal that humans employ fast and slow thinking to solve problems. The brain especially prefers making decisions and solving problems quickly based on recognized patterns, visual and verbal cues, prior knowledge, routines, familiar preferences, prejudices, and emotions.

In contrast, decision making and problem solving often require slow thinking to digest new information, hypothesize alternatives, employ quantitative mathematical and statistical analysis, overtly recognize and break free from cognitive biases, challenge preconceived notions, synthesize ideas, and create new knowledge. To support this kind of slow, rational thinking, accountants can learn a methodical process for problem solving (see Table 1).

solving problems in management accounting

Many common business models—such as Six Sigma, A3 Lean, and Appreciative Inquiry—and the Association of American Colleges and Universities value problem solving, and critical-thinking grading rubrics describe specific steps for rational (i.e., slow thinking) problem solving. Business students, however, learn and apply these models in various courses, typically with no thread that ties them specifically to the accounting profession. Students learn bits and pieces of rational thinking throughout their undergraduate coursework, but instructors often don’t teach a common framework to apply these skills in a relevant and value-added way (see “Survey of Practitioners”).

solving problems in management accounting

To help address this issue, we developed a problem-solving rubric for accounting students (see Table 2). The three of us are faculty members from Metropolitan State University in Minneapolis/St. Paul, Minn., and represent three different parts of the curriculum (auditing, business taxation, and management accounting), so it was important that it could be used across the entire accounting program.

solving problems in management accounting

The rubric assesses learning in an organized way, providing a common framework (criteria) for students to consistently approach problem solving. The criteria include problem identification, analysis, and communication of results. It guides students through a series of problem-solving steps using terms and vocabulary specific to the accounting profession. The rubric also reminds us, as instructors, to create a learning environment where problem solving can occur (see “Setting the Tone”).

solving problems in management accounting


The iterative and looping nature of problem solving confounds inexperienced accountants. Where does one begin? Students tell us using a rubric provides a starting point.

To implement the rubric, we assign students projects with unclear goals, incomplete information, and more than one possible solution. Assignment topics vary. It could have students develop a cost-benefit analysis between adding employees or adopting Lean manufacturing techniques, analyze tax outcomes of business decisions, create a risk assessment and audit response for a fictitious client, or some other accounting-related issue.

Students begin by developing one or several hypotheses as to the nature of the problem. To generate ideas, we assist students in their brainstorming discussions. The rubric leads students to consider the environment, strategy, unexpected observations, overall importance, and risk assessment. At this stage, the identified problem may change, but the original hypothesized problem gives direction for next steps. Upon completing the assignment, we assess students on how they identified the problem.

Metropolitan State University’s business taxation course used the rubric in a case study that involves assessing the implication of the Wayfair v. South Dakota U.S. Supreme Court decision on a company’s sales tax collection. Prior to Wayfair , companies operated under a physical presence nexus established in Quill v. North Dakota . The Quill decision required companies to have a physical presence in a taxing jurisdiction in order to require collection and remittance of sales taxes on transactions.

In Wayfair , the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Quill in favor of an economic nexus standard, where companies only needed to have a certain level of economic activity. For example, in South Dakota, the threshold economic activity is 200 transactions or $100,000 in sales. The change from Quill to Wayfair was a major development in how companies operate and collect sales tax. It required companies to assess all jurisdictions in which they operate and evaluate how the change in the nexus standards impact its operations.

To apply this rubric to the change, students learn about a fictitious company that sells inventory to multiple states and collects and remits sales tax under the Quill physical presence nexus standard. We give students a subledger with all sales data for the given year. The rubric leads students to ask about implications of the Wayfair decision on the company, how the ruling impacts the company’s strategic objectives, and risks to the company because of the change in the law. Using the rubric, students are guided to discover the issue at hand, which is whether the company will have a significant number of new sales tax jurisdictions requiring collections and remittance from its customers.

Students tell us that without the rubric, they often feel like they have no road map at the beginning of a project or case study; identifying the problem seems too big and undefined to tackle. Many students initially resist engaging with unstructured problem-solving assignments because they differ from past assignments. Similar to what one might find in cross-functional teams opposed to change, students show their displeasure with crossed arms and distant body language.

Many college courses still rely on testing facts and use formulas and calculations, an approach that doesn’t put the student in the decision-making role but is familiar to them. With a rubric, students see smaller doable steps, where the assignment is heading, and how they can move forward and loop backward, when necessary. The rubric breaks down the initial intimidation students feel with unstructured problems.


Next, the rubric guides students through analyzing the problem using accounting-specific skills they’ve acquired in each course. For example, students consider tax laws, financial reporting and audit principles, or cost accounting techniques.

Continuing the sales and use tax example, at this stage, students apply the rubric to perform a complete analysis, enabling them to form a conclusion to communicate. What are the relevant facts to determine Wayfair ’s impact? What facts are irrelevant? What primary and secondary tax authority is needed to conduct research? Are there alternatives and exceptions to applying Wayfair ? Have all states adopted an economic nexus standard? Have all states adopted South Dakota’s transactional thresholds? What’s the quantitative impact to the company? Are there financial accounting implications to the Wayfair decision? What’s the scope of the necessary research, and are there limitations, constraints, and so on? Through the rubric, students formulate and answer questions and perform analysis to solve the problem at hand.

We assess students on their ability to gather and identify relevant facts, research any applicable rules and laws, assess alternatives, and perform any needed qualitative and quantitative analyses. At this stage, students apply theories and best practices learned in specific course fields, such as management accounting, taxation, and auditing.

To encourage elaboration, the rubric uses words such as curious, skeptical, model, assumption, authoritative, best practices, relevant, and sufficient sources. Like many accountants, students want to get their work done quickly, but problem solving takes time and slow thinking. Thanks to the rubric, more students turned in papers with greater depth, less “cut and paste,” and more relevant supporting details.

As in the real world, students often discover their original hypothesis or identified problem is incorrect, incomplete, or irrelevant. They confront the iterative nature of problem solving as they work through the analysis stage and build evidence to support their hypothesis. When evidence doesn’t support an identified problem, students go back and redefine their problem, gather new evidence, explore new alternative solutions, and build a case for their conclusion.


Finally, students present their results in a memorandum to a hypothetical manager or audit partner. The memorandum mirrors common styles, such as IFRAC (issues, facts, rules, analysis, and conclusion) and BLUF (bottom line up front). Students state the problem and include the conclusion (i.e., solution) up front along with a summary of relevant facts and assumptions. Supporting documentation presents additional in-depth analysis.

This format familiarizes students with a presentation style that allows management to quickly understand conclusions while also providing more depth to support the up-front conclusion. We expect students to write and present findings in a clear and concise manner as if in a professional accounting setting. The rubric grading criteria helps students solve problems using rational thinking and delivering a memorandum that directly supports management decision making.

In the Wayfair case study, students draft a memorandum to management addressing the implications of the sales tax nexus precedence change. The facts section should discuss the company’s current sales and use tax policies. Students identify the issue as the change from physical presence nexus to economic nexus. The up-front conclusion should identify new jurisdictions from which the company needs to register and collect sales tax and quantify the volume of sales tax it expects to collect. Finally, the analysis provides an in-depth discussion of the change from Quill to Wayfair . Students should discuss how they determined new jurisdictions, limitations, and further required resources for the company.


We use the rubric format for projects or cases at different stages throughout the accounting curriculum. The problem-solving rubric measures student learning and reinforces rational thinking with each assignment. The projects that use the rubric vary in length, depth, and complexity as students move from management accounting to tax and then finally to audit. We find the rubric flexible enough to adapt to an instructor’s needs, yet it provides consistent core steps—identify the problem, analyze, and communicate—to solve problems.

The rubric helps students organize their communication through the memorandum. Setting up a memorandum so the problem and solution appear “up front” highlights mismatches between the problem, evidence, and conclusion. Further, it encourages students to decide—rather than ramble and include information that isn’t relevant. We find students often get to the communication stage and realize that their analysis doesn’t support their conclusion or identified problem. Fortunately, the rubric allows them to loop back and redefine and reanalyze.

By using the same grading criteria in multiple courses, we provide students with a familiar approach to problem solving that turns fast thinking to slow, rational thinking. The process and steps become routine and less daunting for the student. While each step still requires arduous thinking, the approach itself is a recognized pattern for students.

From our point of view as accounting instructors, the rubric helps provide consistent and fair grading. We provide separate points for milestones in problem identification, analysis, and communication, which further encourages students to go through each step of the process. Metropolitan State University plans to expand the use of this rubric in the accounting curriculum. This common framework provides students with a process to identify problems, research and investigate facts, conduct analyses, and communicate results across all accounting disciplines.

This process reinforces the problem-solving skills that students will need in their professional careers. These capabilities will help them perform their roles in today’s strategic, fast-paced business environment. Solving problems is critical for today’s management accountant. Through implementing the rubric, instructors can help students systematically apply a problem-solving process that they can take with them as they move from student to management accountant.

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Problem Solving Skills For Accountants

Problem solving skills for accountants are so valuable because businesses are full of problems that need solving – and almost all business problems have some kind of financial impact.

Therefore accountants with problem solving skills are highly valuable.

As a technically proficient accountant you understand many technical solutions to finance problems and issues.

You know what complies with the rules, what is possible and what is not.

However there comes a time when you are faced with problems that are difficult, eiether because they aren’t well-formed, are ambiguous or complex.

Complex problems

These are problems where there is no right answer and the issues span multiple disciplines and departments.

Developing problem-solving skills will set you apart from your colleagues, as you will be able to help solve these complex problems.

For instance, you will be a vital resource for developing the finance function.

You’ll also become a valued partner to other non-financial managers.

You will be able to propose solutions that work for you and them.

You can also ensure that they work within the financial constraints that you understand well.

Understanding business problems

The first step is to understand the problem thoroughly. To examine it from every relevant angle and understand it in context.

This means understanding the business, what is important and what would be right for the business – not just finance.

Lateral thinking for problem solving

Solving a business problem often requires lateral thinking – coming at things from a new perspective.

With your financial and analytical mind you can bring a valuable perspective that your colleagues may lack.

If you are able to develop lateral thinking skills you can make a significant contribution to the debate. Particularly when you use these alongside and combined with your technical and analytical approach.

Creative ideas

Accountants aren’t always noted for their creative thinking. Therefore being able to suspend judgement and think creatively and imaginatively can give you an edge over others. Because this enables you to bring something unique and different to the discussion.

Learning to think creatively can be liberating and fun. But it can also produce some new insights and innovations.

These can make everyone’s lives more productive and set you apart from your colleagues.

Proposing solutions

Having great ideas is one thing, but arguing the case for them and presenting your proposed solutions to your colleagues and decision-makers is another.

Being able to see – and sell – the benefits of a solution requires an insight into the business, your colleagues and the office politics that inevitably exist.

Why are problem solving skills for accountants so important?

Most business problems have a financial dimension and as accountant you have unrivalled expertise.

An accountant who can proactively solve business problems will be a highly valuable asset for any business..

Being a creative problem-solver may not be your natural strength, but these skills can be learnt and developed.

You have a huge opportunity to become a highly valued member of the team if you can develop your problem solving skills.

How are you developing your problem solving skills?

Do you have sufficient understanding of the business to propose solutions that will be accepted, how adept are you at persuading others of the merits of your solution, which of the  other key soft skills for accountants  do you need to develop, discover the seven essential soft skills for accountants download the report now.

There are some key soft skills to focus on as your finance career progresses.

Find out which they are by downloading the free report.

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solving problems in management accounting


Managers in all organizations are confronted daily with the need to make decisions and solve problems. They need information for making informed judgments, solving problems and managerial control. Information is a valuable resource to an organization, and the management accounting system is the primary source for much of the information managers need and receive.  Areas of emphasis include cost concepts, cost management and behavior; standard costing and variance analysis; cost-volume-profit analysis; budgetary controls; and responsibility accounting. Understanding the use of financial and managerial accounting for pricing, product costing and operational, investment and capital-budgeting decisions – as well as the ethical implications of managerial accounting decisions – are also covered.  Prerequisite: ACC 105. Co-requisite: MAT 115.

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Problem Solving in Accounting

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Problem-solving in accounting is a critical skill that can always be improved upon. Master problem-solver and CFO at Musselman & Hall Contractors LLC, Adam Porter, shares his insight and experience with us in the latest episode of CFO Weekly.

What Makes a Great Problem-solver?

adam porter quote

If you know, you know, right? Adam instinctively knew he was a problem-solver when he was younger. Something as simple as going from point A to point B became an opportunity to experiment with which route got him to his destination quicker. And his quest for discovery hasn't stopped.

“If we don’t understand the ‘why’ behind the actions we take, how do we know if we’re really doing the right thing,” Porter said.

To solve is to correct or optimize, and none of us can do that if we don’t first recognize an opportunity to get involved. Problem-solving goes hand in hand with the willingness to roll up your sleeves and get stuck in, take an active role in, and see through the potential outcome. Adam empowers each of his team members to become (and grow as) problem-solvers, by recognizing them and their contributions to identifying and solving issues.

Involving people in the problem-solving process and connecting the dots for them, showing them how they make the business a better organism, is how you create more great problem-solvers and amplify your ability to tackle problems as they appear.

Accounting Problem-solving in Action

Accounting problem-solving quote

Problem-solving is a term that gets thrown around in interviews and on resumes quite a bit. When the time comes, real problem-solvers like Adam approach things in a specific way.

System Upgrades

If you’ve navigated a system change and survived to tell the tale, some would say you have superpowers. Upgrading something like an ERP system is a mammoth task, even for a seasoned team of executives. During a project like this, you’re reviewing and possibly amending every single organizational process.

You’re also required to identify how everything you do during this project starts to affect other areas of the business: finance, accounting, HR, IT and so on.

Adam’s own experience with one such project led him through a GL restructure. At the end of a six-month series of efforts, with the support of a Controller whom he had brought it to, Adam succeeded and was able to present information back to the business, which could be used to inform business decisions.

The domino effect: once more information became available, and it was clear how it related to each portion of the business, the people in charge of those respective portions became more engaged and more curious and more willing to work with that information.

Problem-solving is just one of those skills where nobody needs to formally identify the need for it. It’s the problem-solvers who are constantly on the lookout for opportunities to apply themselves.

The result is that everybody benefits.

The Problem-solving Process in Accounting

Adam’s very first step in his problem-solving process is to absorb as much information from as many sources as he can. Whether it’s listening to the news every day or speaking with different people inside the business, there’s this ongoing effort to find out more, learn about topical challenges that others might be facing, and use that to drive questions internally about further opportunities to solve problems.

It doesn’t necessarily need to reach the state of being a ‘problem’ to receive attention for optimization. You just need to listen and pay attention to where things might be slower, costing more than usual or requiring manual input from too many people.

Once you have this information, you can gather the right people into the room to start looking at that information, gathering more of it from different sources.

One of the key components of fully resolving any issue is to understand the full scope and depth of its current and future impact: What happens if you leave it alone, or if it gets worse, or if it’s completely resolved? Who gets more time in a day when you resolve something? Whose budget gets some breathing room? Can you reduce the amount of manual input that everybody’s required to give?

Finding the Right People to Solve the Problem in Your Accounting Department

So, once you know what the problem is, you need to get the right people in to solve it.

How do you know who that is? The team behind your solution is critical. As a CFO, you have the responsibility of setting your team up for success when they’re working on solving problems. All execs have this responsibility.

In any organization, cross-functional training is the quickest way to widen perspectives when approaching any problems. If your execs are regularly making time to get down to the operational level, and understand how and why things work a certain way, it becomes so much easier to strategically recommend a resolution when one is needed.

Problem-solving isn’t a one-way road.

Solve the Problem, Not the Symptom

How do you know when you’re solving the right thing? So many times, we see something blatantly creating a bottleneck in an operation and we’ll head right toward that point to clear the blockage. Is that really solving the problem, though?

Most times, it isn’t. Once you clear the blockage, if you don’t look a little deeper or follow it upstream, it’s probably going to reappear not long after you put in all that effort.

Adam explains that sometimes, you already know what the real root cause is, of one or more bottlenecks in the business. Sometimes it’s trial and error. Always, though, it requires you to dig deeper, uncover more detail, more links and connections to other parts of the business operation or the stakeholder network.

Adam goes on to say that getting to the root of the issue can also be achieved by just getting the right people in the room with you. Musselman & Hall Contractors does a great job of this, getting executives together at least once weekly, to just help others on the team evaluate elements, ask more questions, different questions, and gain a different perspective on things that can be missed during the daily routine.

Dealing with Resistance

Resistance is natural. Inertia affects every company in the world to some degree. When problem-solving, it’s likely that this will occur too.

You need to follow the process and listen as much as you convey messages. Cultivate the mindset within your business that someone else learning about your job is a positive thing. Take the time to explain that it’s because a fresh pair of eyes and a fresh mind might ask a different question that can enable you to work faster, reduce manual input, take on more responsibility, and actually achieve a promotion.

The right mindset about problem-solving enables it to benefit everyone on the team. No matter who is working on which problem or when, another major benefit to your business is to thoroughly document your procedures and changes thereto. It enriches the context of every issue that gets identified and resolved now and in the future, creating even greater efficiency for you as time passes.

Overcoming resistance is made possible by including and involving the right people, and enabling regular two-way communication with them through the problem-solving process.

For more interviews from the CFO Weekly podcast, check us out on Apple or Spotify or your favorite podcast player.

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Many accountants enjoy problem solving more than number crunching. So what typical problems can you look forward to cracking at work? Iwona Tokc-Wilde reports


Problem solving is something that accountants and finance professionals deal with virtually every working day. In fact, a recent survey by Robert Half shows it is this part of working in the profession that they like best: 41% of accountants say solving problems gives them the most job satisfaction, compared to just 22% who prefer working with numbers.

‘Accountants are usually excellent at dealing with detail and spotting patterns, which makes them good at – and enjoy – problem solving,’ comments Andi Lonnen, founder and director of Finance Training Academy.

If you are at the beginning of your journey into the profession and enjoy tackling problems, you have a head start. Problem solving is also a skill that is one of the 10 most sought-after trainee skills globally (see 'Related links').

Why problem-solving skills are so important

‘The role of accountancy and finance has shifted from a pure focus on fiscal control to one where it has an impact on the business,’ says Phil Sheridan, managing director at Robert Half.

‘The requirement for problem-solving skills is part of this transition as, by mining data and analysing trends, accountants are now translating numbers into actionable insights for the business and are increasingly being seen as strategic partners.’ By putting their data skills and their problem-solving skills to work together, they also help uncover potential areas for concern.

It is vital for accountants in practice to correctly identify, analyse and solve problems too.

‘As trusted advisers, it’s our role to look at everything in detail to pick-up anomalies, patterns and correlations in order to advise our clients on how to take things forward,’ says Shahzad Nawaz of AA Accountants. If they fail to pick up and analyse problems correctly, the accounts could be wrong.

‘This means the business owner would be relying on incorrect data, which could have a detrimental effect on the future of the business. And, of course, if external stakeholders are relying on the data, then we could potentially be misleading them too.’

Incorrect accounts could also have other serious knock-on effects.

‘If the accounting figures are incorrect, then the tax payments relating to the company will be incorrect too. Later on, the client could find themselves with additional tax to pay – with interest,’ says Tanya Addy of BHP Chartered Accountants. 

‘Inaccurate accounting can also land businesses in serious commercial difficulties especially if, as a result, directors/owners have been taking more salary or dividends from the business than they were entitled to. In the worst case scenario, it could even lead to closure of the business.’

Problem solving at work

There are many areas where trainee and new accountants can practise solving problems, depending on the job you are doing.

‘If it’s accountancy, you’ll be looking at helping a business with cash flow, debtors and improving their record-keeping,’ says Nawaz.

At the nitty-gritty level, you will be reconciling control accounts, trying to understand why an account might not be balancing and investigating and clearing old items on reconciliations.

‘The work to balance an account involves finding out what the problem is and then resolving it, for example identifying and correcting transposition errors,’ says Lodden.

If you work in tax, you’ll be involved in advising a client on how much tax they will need to pay (and how much tax they can save) in a particular year.

‘This will require a review of the information provided by the client, such as bank statements and expenses, analysing which expenses incurred are allowable and disallowable for taxation, quantifying the results and communicating them to the client and to tax authorities,’ explains Carolyn Napier, senior ACCA tutor at London School of Business and Finance. 

You will also be dealing with tax implications, and tax cost for both employer and employee, of providing benefits.

‘You will need to ascertain which benefits are taxable and which are tax-free, and then you’ll need to "solve the problem" of which tax or taxes are due and payable, and by what date,’ says Napier.

In industry, you may be given the opportunity to help analyse projects, and communicate your findings to various parts of the business.

‘This is where new and trainee accountants will need to be prepared to utilise their problem-solving skills – noting anomalies and seeking clarification on areas of uncertainly will ensure that a clearer picture can be obtained,’ says Sheridan.

Deborah Adigun-Hameed is an accountant and junior financial analyst at BlueBay Asset Management. By utilising her problem-solving aptitude and skills, she has been involved in major decisions that shape the company she works for.

‘I’ve contributed to key strategic discussions about which market and products are profitable, what we should be selling and how we compare with our competitors,’ says Adigun-Hameed.

‘I may be newly qualified, but my informed opinions and advice are really valued by the management.’

Both in practice and in industry, accountants are also increasingly called upon to help solve technology problems – for example, when a business intends to implement new business software solutions. They help with the evaluation and selection of a solution, and with planning and execution of the implementation process. They also assist in testing the new system and facilitate going live when the system is ready.

Hone your problem-solving skills

Problem solving is about using logic and your technical expertise to assess a situation and to come up with a workable solution. It is connected to other skills such as level-headedness and resilience, analytical skills and good teamworking skills.

It also requires creativity, which is best learnt through collaboration – brainstorming with others to clarify the problem, generate ideas and create as many potential solutions as possible. When putting forward ideas, be confident in your contributions.

‘Everyone, including those newly-qualified, has something to offer,’ says Adigun-Hameed.  ‘Always think outside of the box, as cliché as that may sound. No new idea is insignificant. Innovation can be incremental; change can be small or radical.’

Improving your listening and communication skills will also make you a better problem solver.

‘Learning to communicate well is vital as you need to build rapport with clients. If you have a good rapport with someone, you are confident to ask questions, which is how you can pin down problems and find answers to those problems,’ says Nawaz.

Above all else, getting practical on-the-job experience is how you can get really good at problem solving.

‘The first control account a trainee tends to tackle and perfect is the bank control account; every trainee accountant has had to look for that 1p difference – as painful as that sounds, it certainly helps you learn,’ says Lauren Burt, client manager at EST Accountants and Tax Advisers.

"Everyone, including those newly-qualified, has something to offer. Always think outside of the box, as cliché as that may sound. No new idea is insignificant. Innovation can be incremental; change can be small or radical" Deborah Adigun-Hameed - BlueBay Asset Management

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solving problems in management accounting

Accounting Problems (& Answers): How to Avoid Accounting Issues

Keeping up with technology and regulatory changes are significant concerns of 51% and 24%, respectively, of CPA and accounting firm survey participants, according to Accounting Today’s survey, The Year Ahead: 2022 in Numbers . 

Delays in advanced software technology adoption and failures in regulatory compliance can lead to accounting challenges and problems for businesses. These accounting issues include errors in financial statements, fraud and security risks, and the potential for massive fines and imprisonment for regulatory non-compliance.

Trained business finance teams using advanced software technology that also automates regulatory compliance can overcome typical (and new) accounting problems.

What are Accounting Problems?

Accounting problems are issues resulting in material financial statement errors, undetected fraud due to inadequate internal control, misapplication of generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP accounting standards), regulatory noncompliance, and cybersecurity risks. Accounting problems may have unfavorable cash flow impacts and misstate business profitability. 

What Causes Accounting Problems?

Some accounting problems are caused by using outdated software technology for accounting. Intentional fraud due to greed and poor internal control causes other financial issues. Low staffing levels can cause accounting problems. Not training the financial team causes accounting problems related to improperly applying GAAP.

The business must defend itself against cybersecurity attacks and stay up-to-date on changing regulatory compliance issues. 

How do Businesses Solve Accounting Problems?

Financial professionals in businesses should use software with advanced technology capable of handling current accounting standards, including revenue recognition and lease accounting, and regulatory requirements to avoid or solve significant accounting problems.

Requiring CPA employees and accountants to take relevant continuing education courses regularly can also help businesses solve accounting problems. Adequate staffing levels help accountants solve accounting issues.

Top management must communicate an ethical tone, corporate values, employee empowerment, and key expectations.

11 Common Accounting Problems

In its fiscal year 2021, the SEC received 1,913 whistleblower complaints relating to corporate disclosures and financials, signaling possible accounting problems in these publicly-held businesses. The SEC also received whistleblower complaints related to the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. 

11 common accounting problems are:

1. Revenue Recognition 

Improperly applying GAAP revenue recognition standards, creating fraudulent revenue schemes, including improper accounting for consignments and third-party inventory shipments beyond the level of possible usage, and using unreasonable estimates, are revenue recognition problems. 

CFODive published an article on August 20, 2020 (based on an Accounting Today analysis) titled Improper revenue recognition tops SEC fraud cases . This article highlights the significance of revenue recognition as an accounting problem. 

Find an accounting software or ERP solution that helps your company achieve proper revenue recognition. Your accounting and finance teams need adequate training on FASB accounting standards to comply with GAAP revenue recognition. Excel spreadsheets are popular. But spreadsheets are error-prone and inefficient. If possible, seek a different software solution. 

2. Lease Accounting 

Changes to GAAP lease accounting standards require lessee companies to capitalize their operating leases with tenant right of use (ROU) and a term of over twelve months. Shorter operating leases (including office space leases) can still be recorded monthly as rent expenses. The leases are amortized over time. 

Accounting standards are codified by the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB). Accountants must also follow other changes to the Lease accounting standard.

Business accounting teams need adequate training to follow the latest GAAP standards on Lease accounting. And they will benefit greatly by using specialized lease accounting software.

3. Impairment Write-downs and Fair Market Valuation 

Accountants may miss making impairment write-downs or required adjustments for recording required assets or liabilities at a fair market valuation. 

Changing economic and business conditions require accountants to periodically assess whether asset valuations have been impaired (to recognize the loss of value). Accountants must also consider adjustments to the fair value of certain assets and liabilities. Accounting professionals make adjustments through journal entries and financial statement disclosures when GAAP requires.

Supply chain backlogs and economic conditions resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic triggered accounting issues to watch for, including impairment and fair value accounting, according to EY, a top-tier accounting firm. 

Examples of asset impairment include:

Examples of fair market valuation include:

Accountants must have adequate training to properly record asset impairments and fair market valuation when required by GAAP and make necessary financial statement disclosures. Research financial statement areas subject to accounting issues with impairment. 

4. Payroll Errors

If a small business decides to calculate its own payroll, payroll taxes, and benefits, it’s possible that payment errors and accounting problems will occur. Payroll problems like miscalculating paychecks for salary expenses and hourly wages hurt employee morale and productivity.

Outsource payroll to a very experienced company providing those services, like ADP or Paychex. If the right number of hours and payroll information is provided, payments and taxes withheld should be correctly computed and compliant with tax laws. You can expect accurate reports to account for those items. Your business can make payroll tax remittances on time when due.

5. Cash Flow Statement

The cash flow statement may include errors in classification by activity type and may not include restricted cash, a newer GAAP requirement. 

Cash flow statement classification errors may include misclassifying the type of activity for interest and dividends received and paid. Interest received and paid is an operating activity in the cash flow statement. Dividends received are an operating activity, and dividends paid are a financing activity in the cash flow statement. 

The CPA firm, RSM, summarizes U.S. GAAP (vs IFRS) classification for certain items in the cash flow statement, including interest and dividends and restricted cash. 

Cash flow statement problem solving requires keeping up to date with FASB updates and training topics related to cash flow statement preparation to understand the basics. 

6. Outdated Accounting Software Technology

Outdated accounting software technology isn’t efficient, doesn’t provide real-time results for visibility in managing the company or its sales & marketing processes, relies on manual data entry and paper documents for business transaction processing and recording, and doesn’t automate regulatory compliance. 

Outdated ERP systems may not be cloud-based. On-premises software systems cause inefficiencies in accessing the software and require more IT department resources to update the system and address software and hardware problems at the company’s location. These ERP systems not deployed on the cloud aren’t ideal for the changed reality of remote or hybrid work situations. 

Upgrade outdated software technology in accounting software or ERP systems by changing to modern cloud-based software. If you don’t have the budget for an ERP system overhaul, consider integrating third-party add-on software to meet your needs for:

7. Not Enough Financial Analysis

An accounting team without efficient accounting systems is spending too much time closing the books, leaving less time for value-added work. Financial analysis adds value by calculating ratios, spotting and managing business trends, and providing decision support for new opportunities.

Use enhanced cloud-based ERP systems and third-party add-on software with built-in artificial intelligence/machine learning that automates accounting processes and financial analysis to the extent possible. You need real-time dashboards with your company’s KPIs (key performance indicators), including trend analysis that all functional areas with authorization privileges can access. 

Supplement these systems with data visualization software like Tableau or Microsoft Power BI for data analytics with real-time capabilities and periodic automated report runs for data your company follows as timeline trends. Data visualization software embeds machine learning tools to deliver business intelligence. 

8. Inadequate Internal Control 

Small businesses may not have enough staffing to attain the separation of duties needed for adequate internal control. Their accounting systems may be inadequate to prevent fraud and duplicate payment errors. 

When segregation of duties isn’t being achieved, get the business owner involved in the approval process as a matched vendor invoice document reviewer and second signature. 

The finance and accounting department needs the human capital and software resources required to perform its duties and achieve results. Is the accounting department getting its fair share of company resources? 

Custody of Assets

Custody of assets includes recorded balance sheet assets and assets not yet recorded in the books like undeposited cash. 

Inventory needs controls for proper receiving, custody, secured storage with controlled access, and physical inventory in full annually and via periodic cycle counts. Office equipment should also be tagged upon receipt and subject to a physical inventory. As stated earlier, inventory should be tested for any loss in value requiring a write-down. 

Discrepancies in the balance of fixed assets may result from a physical fixed asset count. Set a proper cutoff for recording fixed asset purchases. 

If a fixed asset isn’t recorded, look for the purchase documents and invoice to record it. If another fixed asset isn’t counted, investigate where it may be or if it was sold. For accounting purposes, record the difference between the book value of fixed assets net of accumulated depreciation and sale proceeds, computing gain or loss on the sale of fixed assets. Write off missing fixed assets if necessary after your investigation. 

Fraud, including embezzlement, may result from inadequate internal control and employee collusion. 

Use modern cloud-based automation software that helps you find fraud and errors like duplicate payments. Use variance analysis and followup on significant differences for budget vs actual expenses. Review vendor master files, perform 3-way document matching for invoices, and validate vendors for authenticity before paying them. 

Strive to achieve adequate segregation of duties with employee task assignments. Control or custody of assets and recording transactions in the books need to be performed by different employees. 

10. Regulatory Non-Compliance

Regulatory compliance covers different areas, including taxation, data privacy and security, sanctions lists like OFAC, and the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA). 

The Foreign Corrupt Practices Act covers not making bribes in foreign countries. And the FCPA’s scope goes far beyond preventing bribes. 

Violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and other regulations could result in:

Familiarize your company, including the financial and accounting staff, with regulatory issues applying to your industry and company. Perform a project to document regulatory concerns and distribute the results widely. Hold a training session for company employees. Emphasize company values that include being ethical and empowering employees to act as the “conscience of the company.”

Find an automation software solution handling regulatory compliance. Tipalti AP automation software includes automated regulatory compliance features. 

11. Inadequate Security

Cybersecurity is a significant issue that can compromise business intellectual property and customer data and employee records in your system. 

Implement the most advanced cybersecurity software. Create and distribute an up-to-date company policy on required steps for achieving adequate cybersecurity. Train employees on how to avoid email and other scans that can result in hacks compromising company security. 

Using Automation to Solve Accounting Problems

You can solve some accounting problems and become more efficient by applying accounting automation software. AP automation will provide significant benefits for your business.

Accounting Automation Software Applications

Businesses can deploy accounting automation in several areas to improve accounting processes and results. Accounting systems automation includes efficient financial technology (FinTech) applied to vendor invoice processing and payments and customer billing and accounts receivable. 

Automate subscription billing, if applicable to your business model. Use automated customer credit decision solutions to decide which customers will be offered accounts receivable instead of requiring cash payments upfront. 

Integrate CRM and marketing automation software like Salesforce and Marketo to improve sales & marketing processes and convert more new customers. 

Automate forecasting, budgeting, business planning, and cash flow management. 

AP Automation Software Benefits

Gain time to perform financial analysis by closing the books sooner. You can accomplish this by automating routine accounting processes like accounts payable and global mass payments with add-on AP automation software accessed via ERP integration. 

Automated systems provide outsized benefits in the areas of payables automation and global mass payments to suppliers, vendors, and payouts to independent contractors, including freelancers and affiliates, and royalty recipients. Automated systems improve cash flow . They increase efficiency to let your company process vendor invoices and pay in time to take lucrative early payment discounts . 

The best add-on AP automation and global mass payments software:

Using electronic documents instead of paper-based documents:

The level of resources required in accounting and bookkeeping can be leveraged by efficiencies provided by AP automation software. Efficiency is improved by up to 80%. Books are closed much more quickly, letting the finance team spend more time on value-added financial analysis and decision support. 

Cloud-based AP automation software using AI/ML and RPA and tools for regulatory compliance work in combination with ERP systems. 

Real-time SaaS automation software and ERP systems with modern technology can prevent or solve several types of accounting problems and issues, including fraud, accounting errors related to vendor invoices and payments, GAAP compliance in financial reporting, and regulatory compliance.   

And adequate training of the finance and accounting team prevents or solves accounting problems.

About the Author

solving problems in management accounting

Barbara is currently a financial writer working with successful B2B businesses, including SaaS companies. She is a former CFO for fast-growing tech companies and has Deloitte audit experience. Barbara has an MBA degree from The University of Texas and an active CPA license. When she’s not writing, Barbara likes to research public companies and play social games including Texas hold ‘em poker, bridge, and Mah Jongg.



solving problems in management accounting

Problem Solving for Accountants

by Alan Nelson

This course will help you to develop one of the key skills of the accountant of the future. Learn how to establish the root causes of problems and master a variety of problem-solving techniques to help you develop, propose and implement effective solutions for your organisation.

Look inside, this course will enable you to.

About the course

As the reporting of historical performance is increasingly automated, accountants can add more value by identifying problems in organisations and proposing solutions. This involves a level of creativity that many find scary, but which we can all develop if we make the effort to do so.

This course will help you get better at identifying and solving problems in your organisation. You'll discover how to establish the root causes of problems and how you can use a variety of problem-solving techniques to develop and implement suitable solutions. The course highlights the importance of data analysis and creative thinking as well as deciding who to involve in the process. It will help you to ensure that you propose solutions that achieve the best outcomes for those affected.


solving problems in management accounting

Alan Nelson

After studying economics, Alan began his career in accountancy before moving into senior management positions in the book trade. He founded Nelson Croom, the publisher of which he has run ever since. He is currently Chair of ICAEWs Practice Assurance Committee and a member of IFAs Regulatory Committee.

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Find the best way to complete your CPD

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A. Parness Company CPA

Six ways to solve 80% of your accounting problems

Accounting problems can have serious consequences for your business and are definitely worth avoiding. Here we outline six ways to solve the majority of your accounting issues.

1. Know the difference between profit and cash flow

If you’re a new business owner, it can be easy to spend money on growing your business rather than earning that money back again in profits. You may have a profitable business, but it can still become bankrupt by having all its money tied-up in assets, leaving you unable to pay its expenses.

The problem with growing too quickly is that you can end up in a lot of debt and with very little cash flow, even though your business may be making solid profits. You can only stay afloat using loans, credit cards and lines of credit for so long.

In order to avoid this situation, it’s important to understand the difference between profit and cash flow. Your profit is what you’ll be taxed on at the end of the financial year, whereas your cash flow is what’s actually in your bank (each month) as money comes in and goes out of your business.

It can be easy (particularly for a new business owner) to make a profit but have issues with cash flow. Keep track of what you’re spending and selling. You might have bought too much stock, drawn out too much money, or paid cash for assets that depreciate. Take a thorough look at your books before taking on expansion plans that could put your business at excessive risk.

2. Understand the impact of purchasing assets

If you decide to buy assets like machinery or office equipment with cash, it will reduce your cash reserves. And by doing so, you might be placing your business at risk.

You also won’t be able to claim the whole cost of the asset as an expense. Leasing could be a better option as it spreads the cost over time, meaning your cash lasts longer rather than being spent in one hit.

When you decide to make a major business purchase, such as a new vehicle, also think about taking out a short-term loan.

3. Take your bookkeeping seriously

As a small business owner, it’s vital you record and structure everything correctly when keeping the books.

For your sake, your accountant’s sanity, and to satisfy the tax department, you’ll want to build an accurate and reliable picture of your business’s health. Not only are there laws to be met, but you’ll be able to determine how well (or how poorly) your business performed over a certain period.

The advantages of keeping your books clean and up-to-date include:

These days, many small business owners use online accounting software like Receipt Bank to keep an electronic record of their receipts and invoices in the cloud. Take a look at the online accounting options that could enhance your bookkeeping accuracy.

4. Reconcile accounts with your bank feed

To reduce the chance of inaccuracies, it’s important you reconcile your business’s accounts with your bank feed regularly.

As a small business owner, online accounting software can be vitally helpful when it comes to reconciling your accounts. An online banking feed will help you ensure all transactions are accounted for. Reconciling accurately can save your business time and money.

Going through this process on a fairly regular basis will help you track your business’s financial situation. After all, with your mind mainly focused on the day-to-day running of your business, it’s possible that smaller expenses could get forgotten and go unrecorded.

5. Keep up-to-date with your accounting records

Keeping accurate records of all your business’s transactions (even the seemingly insignificant ones) is essential to running a successful business. Assigning a few minutes a day to sorting your invoices and receipts will help you avoid having to untangle a web of neglected records come tax time.

By staying on top of your smaller transactions, it will be a lot easier to manage the larger ones. You’ll be able to consistently manage your books and continue growing your business in confidence as the numbers of transactions increase.

6. Separate your business expenses from your personal ones

One of the most widespread accounting errors involves mixing up personal and business expenses. Keeping all your business finances in one place will make tax time much more bearable.

Ideally, you’ll want to be able to browse your business’s accounts at the end of each month and be sure no personal expenses are included. Some methods you can put in place to achieve this are:

If you do get a business credit card, just remember to only use it for work expenses.

These six tips can go a long way to solving typical accounting problems. Keep on top of your records, reconcile often, and ensure your personal expenses are separate from your business ones.

Complementary Discovery Session

This is our way for each of us to get to know each other a little bit better so we can map out a strategy that will help you meet your goals


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